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Asymmetric Debating: two sets of rules

January 18, 2010

I have an argument I would like to present – and not one I’m comfortable with either – that addresses methods and means in the climate change debate.

I assume you are familiar with the ‘Bomber Harris’ paradox? There were those who said it was utterly wrong to fire-bomb the civilian population of Germany, no matter what the circumstance – essentially a moral argument. The other side of that debate is the pragmatic one – that only by adopting the methods of the enemy can you defeat them (a crude representation but bear with me).

The hearts and minds battle over climate change is asymmetric. We warmists appear to be held to a higher standard, but we are in danger of losing this hearts and minds battle. Are we to sit by with our thumbs up our more moral arses while we take a beating, or should we employ the exact same methods as those we fight?

I am profoundly convinced that ACC is a serious, valid potential threat. Sure, the science is not settled, but it is damn convincing to me. I believe we should act out of self-interest, and acknowledge that mitigation strategies are in any case congruous with resource management (energy, food etc). The failure to convince the public of the necessity of action – a form of insurance after all said and done – will be the undoing of climate change mitigation. If there is no electoral support, our governments will, for all their hand wringing, reflect this through contradictory policies, legislation and dithering.

I do not care for the tactics of the denialists at all, but it is hard to know if we should eschew them and watch the opportunity to save our way of life slip away from us because we were not prepared to get our hands dirty.

A hard one, isn’t it?

(After posting the above the Guardian, this was a response…)

How many guardian and other articles (Times etc) do you need to know that the current message from the alarmists is to use/abuse the fact that Nick Griffin has taken a sceptical viewpoint. You may not be taking this approach but alarmists in general have been ramping it up.

I certainly have been ramping it up and I make no apologies for doing so.

There is a very clear and useful picture to be drawn by identifying the kind of people who support certain ideologies. When those prominent members of the denialist camp also happen to be some of the most disgusting demagogues, liars, holocaust deniers, self-serving criminals, fossil-fuel lackeys; when they are racist, intolerant, illogical, reactionary, fraudulent, dishonest, mendacious and meretricious – and when all these things are proven and documented, not least by the self-same pronouncements of these people – then there is a huge PR advantage to making use of this.

The denialist camp has, for years, personalised the arguments, abusing Al Gore while simultaneously attributing to him powers I’m not sure even God possesses, and motives that fall little short of genocidal. Hansen too is subject to abuse and accusations that make my stomach churn, so relentlessly vile are the things said about him. As for poor old Monbiot, I cannot help but feel for him since he is clearly a decent and well-meaning – not to mention well-informed – commentator. I have no idea how he can maintain any motivation at all to keep his finger resolutely in the dam when I would simply have walked away with a tired smile, saying ‘fuck the lot of you’ under my breath.

My principle reaction to climategate was not about climate change science, nor was it about the clear physical evidence for climate change – whatever the cause – that denialists relentlessly ignore in favour of soft targets like emails and computer models. My reaction was simple: this is a PR disaster, and so it has proved. The denialist brigade have wheeled out the panzer tanks. Do not for one second think we warmists will just sit with our collective thumbs stuck up our morally superior arses while we take a kicking. The trouble with the moral highground is that it can be easily targeted by distant artillery.

Someone suggested – hilariously- in a post the other day, that we were playing by the Queen of Marksberry’s rules, and getting beaten as a result. I think that is true, and it’s time the gloves come off. In science, the rules of the scientific method will and must prevail. In the domain of a propaganda war, the only rule is beat the other side by whatever means necessary. I for one will not sit still for any more relentless disinformation, personalisation, smear and outright lies perpetrated by the ignorant, the entrenched the self-serving, the complacent or the plain dishonest. Denialists determined the rules in this propaganda war by launching relentless attacks on ‘civilians’ in lieu of having any science to support their case – then as now. So you must accept that if this is how you plan to wage your war, you cannot expect us to do anything else but employ the same weapons at the same type of targets.

And the fact deniers are bitching about it – just like the Republicans who cannot live with their defeat and rejection by the US electorate – means we’re getting through. A target missed is a target undamaged. The science may not make any impact on reactionary denialists, but having Jew-hating, immigrant fearing, genuine holocaust denying tossers like Griffin, oil baron lackeys and war-mongers like Bush and Cheney, venal liars like Beck and Limbaugh, Delingpole, Phillips, Monckton and the rest – not to mention thick as a short plank Barbie dolls like Palin and her book-burning creationist knuckle-draggers speaking on behalf of climate change denial, certainly helps our cause no end. Learn to live with it, because like climate change, we ain’t going away, and neither, I’m pleased to say, are the deniers’ new friends.

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